Having a doctor with a good bedside manner is important. In fact, many times I have chosen to find another physician because the way I was treated by the current doctor was not to my liking. On the other hand, I have had many physicians that took bedside manner way too far, and became much too friendly. There is a fine line between too much and too little, and today you get to hear some of the more outlandish examples of both.
Now, bedside manner does not just apply to doctors proper, it can apply to technicians and assistants as well. One person I met who stuck with me happened to be a technician for my nerve conduction test. For those of you who are not familiar with that particular test, let me explain it for you. A nerve conduction test is given to determine if the nerves in a certain part of your body are working properly. In order to do this, they have to stimulate the nerves on one end, and detect if the nerve signal reaches the other end of the nerve. Well, detecting the signal at the end is easy, it just requires a pad placed on the skin. Transmitting the signal, however, is not quite as un-intrusive. Transmission requires a long knitting-needle like device inserted into the part of the body in question, and then electric shocks are conducted into said device. Sounds more like a Cambodian P.O.W. camp torture device, I know.
Because the nerve conduction test is so horrific, this considerate technician had made it his mission to help put patients at ease. His way of doing this was to completely inundate me with his thoughts on a science fiction show that was currently on the air. Think “Trekkie.” This 40 year old man was so obsessed with this particular TV show, that he thought everyone who came into his office would love the show at least half as much as he did (which was still a considerable amount). Because of this, he proceeded to show me his complete trading card collection of the show’s characters and locations. Towards the end of this hour-long test, he even offered to lend me his show tapes (as long as I promised to return them, of course). Finally the test ended, and I hobbled out of there as fast as I could.
Needless to say, this is an example of a bedside manner that is a bit too friendly. As a medical professional who has to deal with patients, you should not go so far as to make the patient feel uncomfortable. It is really hard to say which made me feel worse – the test or this 40-year old Trekkie. Funny in retrospect, yes, but at the time, it was awkward, to say the least.
As I said, bedside manner can go either way – too much or too little. Now, I have certainly had my share of doctors who have treated me more like an experiment than a person. Considering I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis only a short time after they actually named the disease, and considering that my illness was so aggressive that almost nothing worked to help keep it in check, I was the subject of many medical papers. Unfortunately there were a few professionals that stood out as having an exceptionally bad attitude. Whether they were just rude, or simply clueless when it came to human social interaction, who can say. No matter what, the experience was memorable.
One of the worst incidents with a doctor came when I saw one of the best doctors for J.R.A. at the time. This doctor, who shall remain nameless, was world renowned as the number one authority of Rheumatologic diseases in children at the time. Since I was only 11 years old, he was the man to see. This doctor saw patients at his house, so we drove a few hours to see him in upstate New York. When we arrived, there was some concern that we were at the wrong house. This mansion-sized home was not only on the top of a hill, but the only way to reach the entrance was to climb a Mount Everest sized set of stairs. It seems the man who knew everything in the book about J.R.A. forgot to lift his eyes up from the pages and look out his front window. Of course, my parents had to help me up step by step, but it still baffles me why a man who was the authority on a disease that destroys joints lived in a house on a hill.
When we finally got up the stairs and into the exam room, he completed his examination and invited us into his office. He told us that he was going to have a multitude of tests run on me (again), and that it looked like full blown Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis to him. My mother then went on to ask questions like “will he grow out of it,” and “will it ever subside?” The doctor then proceeded to tell her that I would never grow out of it and would probably end up in a wheelchair. After this, despite the fact my mom was crying and terribly upset, he continued to explain how it was likely that I would be disabled and crippled for the rest of my life. Talk about no sense of empathy whatsoever! This guy was legendary. How many of you could sit there and continue to tell a crying mother that her son was going to get worse and worse until he was an invalid? This man had obviously never been taught the power that empathy and a soft touch could have. Needless to say we only went to see him a handful of times.
Throughout the years, I have seen many doctors and other health professionals who obviously had no time for perfecting a bedside manner. It ranged from people with horrible breath or tremendous body odor, to people who were downright mean and arrogant. Regular people you meet in life can be expected to be insensitive to illness at times, mainly because they are uneducated when it comes to disease. Medical professionals, on the other hand, are the last people you would expect to have no understanding of how to talk to patients about their medical issues. I guess when it comes right down to it, doctors are just human beings like everyone else. Then again, I would love to see how some of the more arrogant doctors reacted to bad news themselves. Especially after climbing several large flights of stairs.